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An Industry for All with Katherine Barrios

This week we have the pleasure of chatting to Katherine Barrios, CMO of Oslo-based Xeneta and the recent recipient of Supply & Demand Chain Executive’s 2022 Women in Supply Chain Award. The accolade honours female industry leaders and executives whose accomplishments, mentorship, and examples set a foundation for women at all levels of a company’s supply chain network.

If there’s someone you know who deserves a turn in our spotlight on equality and opportunity within maritime, please do get in touch!

Now, let’s hear from Katherine…

What is your current position and how long have you had the role?

I’ve been CMO at Xeneta for the past seven years, leading our customer success and marketing teams.

How did you get involved in the maritime industry?

While growing up, my father worked in logistics at one of the terminals at the Port of New York and New Jersey. His career there spanned over 40 years and he was a long-time member of the International Longshoreman’s Organization (ILA). As a kid I visited the port and his office frequently, fascinated by the ships docking, loading and unloading thousands of containers from all over the world… Not to mention watching how they were dispatched for the next journey on road or rail networks. I was able to see first-hand how truly fascinating ocean shipping is; witnessing all the work, people and equipment it takes to get goods from A to B.  

After I started my career, I always had this idea at the back of mind that I wanted to work in the industry someday. So, when the Xeneta opportunity arose, I thought “well, this is meant to be.” Furthermore, it was a company with a vision and mission I could believe in, and a massive opportunity to apply my love of commercializing tech products in an industry I’d always had an interest in.

Why do you believe young people should consider a future within the maritime industry? 

The maritime and overall logistics/shipping industry is more complex than most people think – and because of its complexity, there are many opportunities to make itbetter. The industry is effectively a clean slate, ripe for the application of innovative ideas and technology to enhance efficiency and deliver improvements.

The opportunities are really endless. Many people don’t think about the journey of goods, the intricacies of transportation, and the challenges that global trade brings. Our whole world revolves around it, supports it, or is supported by it. I can’t think of a more inspiring industry to make your mark in. 

What key lessons have you learnt during your time in the industry, and what advice would you give to others?

Just seven years ago, the industry seemed stuck in its ways. Innovation and new ways of doing things were seen as negative – as a threat to jobs. However, in the past two years, there’s been a fundamental shift. Whether a pandemic ‘needed’ to happen to open up this new mindset is a moot point, but there has definitely been a transformation in all areas of shipping.

Personally speaking, I’ve learned to be patient, yet to continue hammering home the message that change is good; that change is not dangerous, and that change can bring benefits to all. Educating the market, and stakeholders, is key.

So, my advice from that is “stick to what you believe in and don’t give up!” Show people the possibilities of innovation, but also the risks involved in not being open to change.

What do you think are the industry’s key strengths and weaknesses, and how would you like to see it evolve?

The industry can be slow to adopt new ways of doing things – it takes a long time to gain trust. There’s also a lack of diversity at the moment. I would love to see more women, more non-white, non-straight males in the industry. We need different perspectives in such a large global industry.

As far as its strengths, I refer back to the huge opportunities in front of us. There is so much untapped potential – we need to act on that!

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a breakthrough and we want this to continue. Getting more young people interested in shipping and supply chain will help, as that will drive the further application of technology and innovation.

What do you like best about a) your current role and b) the industry in general?

I like the fact we are breaking new ground, building something from scratch. Every day is a positive challenge, which keeps me on my toes; whether it’s oiling up our internal operations, or better understanding how to learn from and serve our global customers.

The industry is a constant ebb and flow, particularly in our niche. Socio-economic and geo-political developments have a direct and immediate impact on the data we provide. As a marketing executive, ensuring that we as a company are always one step ahead of this volatile market is genuinely invigorating.

What are your personal ambitions within the industry?

I hope to continue in the industry for the foreseeable future, carrying on applying my love for great tech products, while helping break down the status quo and effect positive change.

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